Tuesday, December 23, 2008
I think this was specifically aimed at action writing but I'm not sure. Doesn't matter. I wholeheartedly disagreed with this premise regardless of the genre and, after a month or so of watching action films and reading scripts to explore the idea, I still wholeheartedly disagree.
It's not that I oppose giving the audience a hint that Richard Kimball might escape through a storm drain or jump off of a damn or viaduct or whatever that was, I just don't think it's critical or required in every escape scenario.
In some cases, sure, give the audience a hint. IF IT WORKS. The word "escape" reminds me of a scene in Finding Nemo where Dory and Marlin are fleeing from a shark who fell off the "fish are friends" wagon. In that scene, we do get a clue, a hint, a jab in the rib right before they escape. Dory's inability to read the word "escape" was both a comic element and a message to the audience that there is a way out. That may be particularly important in this case considering the young age of much of the audience and the need to keep it scary but not too scary.
But in film, we like to surprise the audience and the audience likes to be surprised. If we aren't careful about things like this, we'll get the ol' "it was so predictable" slap. None of us likes to be told what we wrote was predictable. That's like saying we wrote something flat or prosaic. One or two scenes where we see "it" coming could spoil the whole film experience for the audience.
That's not saying that it WILL. I'm saying that it COULD. There are some crisis situations where if we DON'T give the audience a hint, it may not make sense to them later or it will feel like a contrived deus ex machina.
I'm taken back to what my grandmother said about showing only a little ankle to make the eye want more. She wasn't saying we should always show a little ankle or never show more than an ankle. She said that IF you're gonna flash skin, don't show too much. I'm not saying we should never give the audience a clue, just that it is not always necessary.
Of course my grandmother also said "never show your cellulite until you're wearing a wedding band". I don't know how to translate that into film...
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Well, I've recently looked over all the piss I've written in the past five years and it's pretty clear to me now that while I have potential, I've never written a drop of penicillin.
What appears to have happened is that I spent so much time studying the craft that I didn't actually write anything worth producing.
I remember reading my first screenplay a year after I wrote it and shuddering in embarrassment. Well, I'm no longer embarrassed by that piece of garbage or anything else I've written over the past five years. They're exercises in screenwriting. One is a thesis on character development and dialogue while others focus on structure, foreshadowing, or conflict.
But, they're not screenplays. They're homework.
If I believed in resolutions, mine for 2009 would be to write nothing that isn't great. My own opinion, though, is that resolutions are frequently little more than admissions of failures and shortcomings disguised as noble goals in order to help us cope with our deficiencies. Well, no need. I readily admit that I am deficient. That's the first step in any recovery process:
Hi, my name is Mary Anita Batchellor and I am an impotent writer.
Step one. Done. On to step two.
Saturday, November 22, 2008
So, help me, writers. Whatdya got?
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
A friend of mine gave me permission to refer to his screenplay in vague terms for the purpose of this post. He liked my comments and said I should share my diagnosis with posterity. Yeah, okay. I'll give it a shot but I'm no expert.
Here's the deal. He has a good story that would, if I were the protagonist, be full of adventure, angst, and nail biting scenarios. I'm a wimp. So, if I were living out the story, the drama and uncertainty would be intense and the viewer would be doubting that my chubby legs (I've been working to shrink them for over a year now) could actually sprint across that wobbly rope bridge, much less stay on a horse or leap from a moving train. The threat of my sudden demise would be real.
But I'm not in the story. His character is. And, that character is more than qualified to run across a wobbly bridge, stay on a horse, and leap from a train.
Instead of helping the story, the character's invincibility hurts it. There's no tension. No fear. No anxiety. We know from the beginning that this character is a conqueror and the sky is the limit.
No fun. He can't fail. We need the threat of failure.
What to do.
The way I see it, this writer has a few options and this works for all genres, not just action films. This writer must find a way to turn the heat up on his character. That means either finding his character's Achilles tendon and exploiting it, amping up the challenges to fit the character, or making the character more vulnerable and human so the challenges feel greater and the viewer can relate to them. Or, all of the above. We need to know the character can fail at something.
Find his weakness. Turn up the pressure. Make him human.
John McClane (Diehard) could swing from a skyscraper on a fire hose. He's invincible. How the heck do we turn up the heat on a guy like that? Find his weakness. It's his wife and kids. Put the pressure on him. He's already fighting international terrorists so make him do something more personal like save his wife and hundreds of people from an exploding building. Then make him human so the viewer can relate to him. Let him walk barefoot through broken glass. We can all squirm in our shoes watching his feet bleed.
Indiana Jones is one of the most vulnerable action heroes ever written. That's why we love him. We love that he's terrified of snakes - weakness. We love that he's an ordinary professor saving humanity from a cursed Ark - pressure. And, we love that he's intimidated by his father but fearless in the face of Nazis - human.
Find his weakness. Turn up the pressure. Make him human.
One. Two. Three. Simple to diagnose. Much harder to go back and rewrite. Good luck, writer friend. You'll get there.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
In all fairness, it's kind of tough to write when Bob Hope keeps singing "Buttons and Bows" in your head. Oh, he's not singing The Paleface version that Dinah Shore later turned into a chartbuster in 1947. No, sirree, Bob. He's singing the Sunset Boulevard version where Joe Gillis goes to a New Years shindig populated by "writers without a job, composers without a publisher, and actresses so young, they still believe the guys in casting offices". They're sharing a yuk around the piano and singing --
Hollywood, for us, ain't been so good,
Got no swimmin' pool, very few clothes,
All we earn are buttons and bows.
Man, I love that movie.
I know a lot of writers who think they'll be cashing $100,000 checks some day and, who knows, maybe they will. Plenty of writers do. But even so, John Logan posted something somewhere a few years back (wish I could find it) where he breaks down that $100,000 minus the necessaries and divided by the years it took to write the screenplay. Basically, he says the writer actually earns about as much as the guy who pulls the slushie machine at your local 7-Eleven.
We know the odds. They're more stacked than the bras my sister used to stuff with chicken cutlets. Still, we write. But here's my question. If you could see into the future and knew for certain that nothing you're writing will ever be produced, opted, sold or even seen by anyone who won't use it as shavings in a gerbil cage, would you still write it?
Such is the soul of the writer -- even one whose story is penned up in her head with Bob Hope. Sure, a pig on the plate is worth two in the pen but those two in the pen will wind up on a plate sooner or later. Mmmmmmm. Bacon.
Friday, August 29, 2008
Example: the N-word. It still makes my flesh crawl when my son and his black friend call each other the N-word as a salutation or a jest. I forbid them to use the N-word in my house. They laugh at me. Apparently, it's okay if you've been best friends your whole life.
My grandmother often sang this from West Side Story:
I feel pretty
Oh so pretty
I feel pretty and witty and gay
And I pity
Any girl who isn't me today
...much to the snickers of my cousin, who was, in fact, GAY! Oh sure. She knew he and his long term roommate were intimate partners but "gay" meant giddy, not homosexual, and nobody could convince her otherwise. Plus, as she frequently jibed, if they were REALLY homosexual (not gay), they would enjoy her showtunes. My grandmother was a hoot.
Point. Point. Oh, yes. Me.
Ollie, Ollie, Oxen Free! I have resumed my life after a long and nasty case of --- get this --- MONO!!! Oh yeah. That myth that you can't get Mono after your twenties was started by those guys that found Big Foot.
The doctor said I should have made out with more boys when I was a teenager and gotten this over with early like the other 95% of the population. He's right, of course. While I was in bed with a swollen spleen and every bone in my body crushing from the inside out, my fourteen year old, who came down with Mono at the same time, was out playing laser tag.
How did I get Mono, you may ask? My son's nineteen year old friend moved in with us while he's going to college. With him came his Mono and an inability to remember which bottle of water is his.
The first few days of Mono are kind fuzzy now. I remember pain and fever. I remember hearing the "I Dream of Jeanie" theme song and thinking my Chihuahua was the mail lady. I remember feeling the cauliflower growing in my throat and I remember my four boys hanging around my bed talking about me.
D: You have Mono? Serious?
W: Stephen, you douchebag!
M: I have it, too and I'm not that sick.
S: Yeah well you're a tool.
Ah. The evolution of language.
Monday, August 04, 2008
He's in serious condition.
Around here, when friends are hurt or undergo surgery, we bring them food, sew a personalized blankie or pillowcase for their hospital room, sneak them some goodies and sit next to the bed and read, sing, or pray. But with strangers admired from afar? There's nothing to do but pray.
Sunday, August 03, 2008
One of the very few negative comments I've heard (and read) about The Dark Knight is that it stretched the suspension of disbelief just a little too far. This puzzles me. Batman is a comic book. That's what comic books do. Suspend disbelief.
So, I pose this question - how far is too far? Where is the line? Is the line Stretch Armstrong far for animated films and slashers but only to the edge of your elbow for every other genre?
Perhaps it's an occupational hazard that screenwriters must analyze everything we watch, but really, this comment about the suspension of disbelief has never made sense to me - ever - because it's one of those things that writers control by the reality they establish in the story. As a screenwriter, I decide what the reality of my story is. You don't get to choose reality. I do.
What I really think is that when people talk about stretching the suspension of disbelief too far, they're really saying one two things: either the reality of the story doesn't sustain certain story elements which means somebody didn't do their job well enough OR a circumstance in the story would never happen in real life which is just plain silly.
- The reality of the story doesn't support certain elements of the story. That doesn't mean the film suspended disbelief too far. It means the film didn't clearly establish its reality. It's still a development flaw but from the ground up. We wouldn't expect to see a duck lay golden eggs in a film like Liar Liar but we have no trouble believing that a little boy can make a birthday wish that supernaturally comes true. Why is that? Because the film firmly establishes the whimsical reality that the protagonist lives in.
- That would never happen in real life. Of course, it wouldn't. We go to films to escape real life. I've never seen a single person laugh hysterically in the cemetery after burying a daughter but that's my favorite scene in Steel Magnolias. I doubt many people could get away with stealing their dead father from a hospital but Little Miss Sunshine pulled it off.
There may be a third possibility here, too. Maybe a role was miscast. The actor or actress gave a performance that was too subtle, too over the top, or they just didn't get their character at all and that weakened the credibility of the suspect story element.
Asking an audience to suspend disbelief is kind of what we're all about, isn't it? You've heard what I have to say so now I ask you -- how far is too far?
Wednesday, July 23, 2008
But, not all of them.
Yesterday, not fifty feet from my bedroom window, something (coyotes or pit bulls) tore my nine year old cat limb from limb while I slept. I heard nothing while they ripped Lucy's little body to shreds and painted my lawn with her blood. They played tug-o-war with her and dragged her twenty feet this way and fifteen feet that way, leaving pieces of her flesh and fur in the wake of what must have been unspeakable suffering. There are no words for how gruesome and sickening the morning scene was or for my own grief as I bagged my little kitty's very few remains and hosed down the blood that looked more like it came from a slaughtered cow than a house cat.
I've seen enough crime scene shows to piece the evidence together, though. My cat never left my yard. Never. She usually slept in the house at night but for some reason she was outside, probably chasing mice and trying to do the same thing to them that was done to her. Irony? Or, circle of life? Either way, the dagger I feel in my chest is the same.
Recently, I've noticed the bunnies missing from the field behind my house. I thought they had gone underground because of the heat but now I wonder if they didn't fall prey to coyotes. When the bunnies ran out, the coyotes probably began feeding on backyard pets.
Or, it was the neighbor's pit bulls. There's no animal control to speak of out here and these dogs tried to shake a puppy to death a couple of months ago. My next door neighbor rescued the puppy and earned stitches for her trouble. But dogs kill for sport. This killing was about food. Lucy was a meal - or so the horror of the crime scene suggests.
Terrifying is the midnight potty break my Chihuahua often takes. She didn't appreciate it last night when I stood over her with a flashlight while she was doing her business. But I couldn't chance the cat murderers coming back for Mexican food.
Yeah, I make light of it, but don't let me fool you. I'm devastated. I jumped at every noise last night and even got up to let the cat in. She wasn't there. When the train went by and the coyotes yipped, I fell to pieces.
Coyotes have become increasingly brazen about boundaries. They've been urbanized out of their homes and in dry seasons, they starve when rodents go underground. Coyotes jump fences, creep into garages and make a meal out of anything wild or domestic that's smaller or slower than they are. Years ago, a little girl across town was playing in the yard with her new puppy when a coyote jumped her fence and snatched the puppy right out of her hand without ever breaking its stride.
Whether it was coyotes or pit bulls that took my Lucy matters not.
I own a shotgun.
Saturday, July 05, 2008
Friday, June 20, 2008
Unk brought up a valid point on my last post when he discussed how writers must be their own story's expert, especially when it comes to talking to people in production who would pressure you to make changes that may or may not work. It's true. We must know our characters, stories, symbolism, foreshadowing, etc. so well that we don't even need to process the cause and ripple effect of any change. We'll just know. Right then. Right there. The moment the change is proposed.
But a post on Wordplay the other day brings up the opposite scenario. A writer repeatedly asks his friend for story notes but the revisions never address the flaws, issues, or questions that the reader identifies. Is that because the writer really is his own expert and knows the reader's comments aren't valid? Or, does this writer have rose colored earlobes, listening for validation instead of constructive remarks?
What I'm about to say will annoy a few writers but I believe this to be one of the greatest mistakes amateur screenwriters can make. Asking your great aunt Martha to read your script is fine, but her comments are probably useless. Non-filmmaking friends don't understand structure, rhythm, or dialogue as well as someone who has been a reader, screenwriter, director or producer for umpteen years. Aunt Martha may know her stuff, but that's the exception. More likely, she'll have a similar euphoric pride in your script that you had when you finished your very first screenplay and immediately assumed it was ready to send to every studio in the golden state.
I'm not being cynical here. I'm being pragmatic. There comes a point when a writer ought not need anyone else to tell him what's wrong with his script. That's not to say he doesn't need story notes - that's the way of the business - but he either knows exactly what is wrong or knows it works and any changes will be based on preference, budget, set pieces, location, improvisation, the director's niece wanting a role, whatever.
The trailer for the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie included a clip where the Will Turner character tells the ship's crew that he's not leaving the cannibal island without Jack Sparrow. Then Jack appears on the beach pursued by a hundred cannibals to which Will says "Never mind, let's go." Funny clip. But when I went to see the film, I sat there watching the events that led up that scene and realized that Will Turner would never say "never mind, let's go" because he'd gone to the island for one purpose - to get an item from Jack that would save the life of his true love. He wouldn't say "never mind, let's go" because that would be like saying "never mind, I'll just let my true love hang".
You know you genuinely love movies when you get a nervous twinge in your stomach waiting for a moment you're sure won't work. To my great relief, when the line arrived, it was different. I found out later that the line in the trailer was a result of a blown take. Orlando Bloom said "never mind, let's go" meaning "never mind, let's shoot this again" or "never mind, let's get on with it".
That was a teeny tiny change that may have looked inconsequential to many people but the writers would have known that the line would totally undermine the character's heroism and credibility to the viewer. Writers - people who own the stories - will catch these things, or at least they should.
So, again, how do you weed the practical and useful advise in story notes from the meaningless feather flapping of an egotistical reader? It's something inside the writer's heart, head, soul, or gut that either sounds an alarm that says "yeah, that would work better" or tells you the reader skimmed the story or just doesn't get it.
Knowing if somebody pegs a problem in your story is kind of like the way a mother knows if her own child is lying. It's your kid. You know. Sure, he can get one past you once in awhile, but you've taken care of him his entire life so when somebody tattles on him, you have a sense about whether or not the accusation could possibly be true. When somebody else's kid is lying, you might know. You might not.
Both situations depend on the circumstances but like writers, some parents are in denial. "No, Mr. Police Officer, my kid with the marijuana tattoo and bloodshot eyes who goes by the nickname 'Roach' has never smoked dope. He doesn't even eat meat because his body is a temple." Yeah, well, maybe it's just a tofu temple and you don't know him as well as you think.
You should know. It's your story.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
And then there's this.
First, there was Steve Perry. Then Steve Augeri and next up was Jeff Scott Soto. Neither of the substitutes could fill Perry's vocal niche. But Journey's newest frontman is a 40-year-old Filipino singer named Arnel Pineda who was discovered on YouTube and is widely considered a dead ringer for Steve Perry's unique voice. Pause the James Horner music playing on the right column and then have a listen to this poser --
What do you think?
Perhaps it's hyper-emotional misplaced loyalty to Steve-o or maybe it's the experienced ear of music lover, I dunno, but I hear the difference. Of course, I also hear the neighbor's phone a half acre away and the bunnies rustling in the grass outside my window. Either way, it doesn't matter. Posing is working for this guy. He faked it 'til he made it. And, in his case, faking it IS making it.
Maybe that works in screenwriting, too. Terry Rossio said that when he was starting out, he noticed that anybody who did anything for ten years became an expert at it. I don't know about you, but that sounds a little like "fake it 'til you make it" to me.
Thursday, June 05, 2008
I know someone who reads for screenwriting competitions including the Nicholl. She sees so many screenplays that when something goes wrong, it jumps out at her. For example, if a character changes mid-story, she'll go back and re-read where's she's been so far, just to make sure she didn't miss what led up to the change, his motive, some subtext somewhere, or something, ANYTHING, that would explain or validate such an abrupt change in character. She reads so many screenplays that now and then, she does miss something but usually, the writer is just executing a bad idea.
Lucy has an interesting post about conflicting story notes. One of her blog readers quotes polar opposite comments on the same script from the same company. Clearly, if one reader says your characters have solid direction and the other says the characters are all over the place with no direction, one of them is mistaken.
Maybe. Maybe not.
How can they possibly both be correct? My theory is that sometimes readers think the story has lost direction when it takes a short sidestreet. Maybe the sidestreet is for comic relief, character development or suspense, but whatever the reason, the reader got lost. Some readers will jump right back into the story and some will be left wandering around waiting for a conclusion to the sidestreet. Sorry. But that's not just about inexperienced readers. It's a writing issue, too.
Recently, while viewing my latest Netflix rental, I puzzled over a scene that left me cold. It was well acted, had great timing and was beautifully shot but something wasn't right. I just didn't know what. At the end of the film, I went back and watched that scene over several times. Still no idea what was wrong with it. So, I started the film over.
This time, I had the big picture and knew the theme and conclusion right out of the gate. When I arrived at the scene in question, it was an easy diagnosis. The scene didn't belong there. It didn't belong anywhere. It was a brilliantly executed but really bad idea.
I've seen this problem before in my own writing and in screenplays I'm asked to critique. When I mention that something doesn't work, the retort is usually about what an awesome scene it is or how well it's written or how funny it is. All of that may be true, but there's a bad idea in there. That doesn't mean the scene is bad or the writer is bad but this particular idea? No workie. And, no matter how genius the execution is, it's still a bad idea.
Anything that takes away from the story is a bad idea, even if it's well done. Among its many crimes against the screenplay, a bad idea may slow momentum, contradict character, weaken the story or simply confuse the reader or viewer to a point of no return.
If I tell a story about my lazy secretary who keeps dropping calls because she's too busy checking her MySpace, I don't need to throw in a bargain pair of shoes I found on my lunch break. It may be a fascinating sidestreet about the shoes, especially if Wanda Sikes got in a fight with Chuck Norris over the same pair or Brad Pitt was in the store trying on lingerie, but the shoes don't move my secretary story along. However, if the secretary found my receipt and then faked an injury to take the afternoon off to go shoe shopping herself, it might demonstrate what a good for nothing she is.
Taking sidestreets is not a bad idea in the writing process. It allows the creative mind to go out and play. It may help build the story in the writer's mind, help him get to know his characters better, or allow him to explore some story options. It may even make the writer realize he needs to go in a whole 'nother direction. But writing a scene doesn't mean it has a place in the story. Some sidestreets bring something fresh to the story. Others are a wrong turn and will make the story wander, stall, or die a slow and painful death. It's the writer's job to sort out which sidestreet is which.
Why can't we spot our own bad ideas? We can. But, sometimes, especially if the scene is well done, it becomes about ownership and identifying with what we've written. That's our DNA on the page. Maybe the trick here is that once an idea is out on the table, it needs to take on its own identity so any criticism or attack is on the idea, not the person who came up with it.
None of this means that readers don't make mistakes. Some storynotes are spot on. Others are out of line. Maybe the reader is learning, having a bad day or just found out his wife had an affair with the pool boy. Who knows? We should. Don't run off and make changes solely based on something a reader said. But, be open to the possibility that a reader may identify a well executed bad idea.
Tuesday, June 03, 2008
Yeah, a one pound bird can be downright terrifying.
There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.
When sorrows come, they come not single spies,
But in battalions.
Saturday, May 31, 2008
After twenty solid minutes of playing outside, this obsessed little mutt promptly brought me his slobber soaked ball and demanded - yes, DEMANDED (watch the video) - that we continue our exercise in the hallway - half the hallway actually as it runs the entire length of the house and I was afraid he'd have a stroke. He CAN'T stop. Even if his tongue is hanging out and he's gasping for his last breath, he can't help himself. He can't stop. Oh, and no hesitating in between throws either or he gets very testy! He needs his fix!
Toby is an addict and that yellow tennis ball is his crack pipe. That ball stalks me. Wherever I go in my house, it suddenly appears. Look up and there's half an ear or nose waiting around the door for me to get the hint. I go to the bathroom and the ball appears. Look up. The ear is waiting around the door again. It's like a fetch horror movie.
And, today it dawned on me.
I, too, have a crack pipe. Even when I'm dog tired and collapsing in my bed, there are still stories swirling around in my head. I'll go to my laptop with an agonizing migraine (yeah, they're back - I dropped my meds) rather than let a story fade with time. Last night - er, this morning, I was writing notes at 4:00 a.m. because I had a brilliant - BRILLIANT - idea on the way to the bathroom.
I shudder to think what that idea reads like in the light of day, but that's not the point. The point is that we all have our crack pipes - metaphorically speaking. Writing is mine. And, possibly yours since you obviously read writer blogs...
Friday, May 30, 2008
Whether a critic, writer, or blogger likes a film or hates it, he ought to be able recognize the no-brainer contributions of these two writers to filmmaking and screenwriting, let alone the Pirates of the Caribbean phenomenon. There's a huge difference between an opinion -- "I didn't like the film" or "I had a hard time following that film" -- and the twaddletype passed off as an opinion -- "the narrative mess that was Dead Man’s Chest should have been enough for Bruckheimer to have these two walk the plank before At World’s End went before the lens". Oh, and Gore Verbinski "lacks vision". Yeah. On planet Moron. You want vision? Watch the Kraken in POTC2 or mailstrom in POTC3. You want films that dumb down for viewers? Go rent Baby Geniuses.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
Do you know what your reader expects from you when he picks up your screenplay? Can you be unpredictable without being erratic? Can you be erratic without seeming accidental? Screenwriting lessons come from the most unlikely places. The latest? Don't laugh. Wrestling. Go right ahead and roll your eyes but there are real and effective object lessons in our everyday lives. All we have to do is watch audiences, not just in movie theatres, but wherever we go.
From east Texas to west, my camera and I follow my oldest boy every week as he pursues his dream to beat people up for a living. I marvel as men envy and women worship my baby dumpling. They reach out to touch him, scream in rapt pleasure when he brushes by, ask for his autograph, and beg him to pose for photos. All the while, I remember how fearless he was as a toddler only until there was a cricket in his shoe or a lizard in the bathtub. It's the same time-in-a-tornado mixture of pride and post adolescent nostalgia all parents endure as they realize their children no longer are.
This MAN's goal (yes, he is indeed a man and I choke as I say it) is to one day join the likes of Steve Austin, the Rock, and a bunch of other WWE'r's whose names I don't find interesting enough to bother recalling. I loathe wrestling. But, it's my son's dream, not mine, and he's doing an impressive job of chasing it down. No stage parent help. All I did was pay for his first gym membership eight years ago.
So what is this Odyssey of his teaching me about screenwriting?
Sure, the success of these wrestling extravaganzas which take place in only the finest warehouses, abandoned retail districts and ag barns across Texas are also dependent on clever marketing (bright colored poster board) but once the butts are in the seats and the cracks are sufficiently exposed, it's much like any other live entertainment. If the audience is bored, they don't come back.
In stage plays, the story and characters are the same performance after performance. No so in this combative form of entertainment. The dramatic storylines evolve week after week much like in a soap opera. The execution of that drama is in the form of drop kicks, body slams, and moves with all kinds of masculine catch phrases which, again, I don't bother to remember.
The circuits where the drama works well are the ones with clearly defined characters - good, bad, ambiguous - it doesn't matter as long as it's clear which ones are good, bad, and ambiguous. These people want you to paint it on their foreheads-- cheer for this guy, boo that one, and beware of Frank Poncherello. We don't know what's up with him. Having done that, it's easy to shock them later with a transformation or character flip.
The organizations that don't execute the drama very well are the ones that make audiences figure out things for themselves or they flip their characters from hero to heel and then hero again too fast and too soon. They can't decide on the dramatization or they perform inconsistent dramatizations. These shows are so unpredictable that shock value is diminished (non-existent) and audiences are forced to learn everything anew every single week. You can take Popeye's spinach away and cut Samson's hair but the audience won't give a rip unless they've come to appreciate the full import of spinach and hair.
What does your audience want?
The wrestling audience wants the adrenaline that comes from being surprised, enraged, enraptured, sympathetic, and horrified. They want to feel every human emotion you can possibly cram into one evening of leotards, speedos, and men dressed as Power Rangers. Any Sybil-like herky jerky characterizations leave audiences unsatisfied and their seats empty the next week.
Last night, my boy worked the opening of a new "arena". Aside from the giant dead fish on the gravel parking lot and the lady breast feeding on the front bleacher, it was an okay place. This audience had never seen any of the wrestlers before. Event runners did a brilliant job of guiding the audience and introducing the good, the bad, and the "oh my gosh, when did Ringo Starr start professional wrestling?". They didn't make the audience figure it out for themselves and they understood that dramatization and characterization are critical in this performance sport. Even if they didn't KNOW that's what they understood, that's what they understood.
Okay, so what have I learned about screenwriting and what do I hope to share with you from all this?
- Know your audience. You probably don't write for a wrestling audience but your audience has specific needs. Those who know their audience are working it. Those who don't are sinking.
- Clearly define your characters. If you don't, nobody will appreciate it when characters change.
- Story elements must be well established before they change. Otherwise, who cares?
- Dramatization must be consistent. Don't drop a storyline without resolving it first. The audience will hold it against you.
- Chase your dream. People who think it's silly probably don't have a dream of their own. All progress is good. Kiss your mother. She's your biggest fan even when she's not.
- If you need bizarre characters for your screenplay, attend a wrestling match and watch the audience. Bring tissue. There's probably no toilet paper or paper towels in the bathroom. Flick cayenne pepper at that brat who keeps kicking you and he'll spend the night rinsing his eyes out in the bathroom with no paper towels. Make sure you pee first.
Thursday, May 01, 2008
Fourteen of my last one hundred visitors arrived here by Googling the Don and Gee Nicholl Fellowship in Screenwriting or something along those lines. Another fifteen or so searched information on battle speeches and a handful found my "That Would Never Happen" post by searching the death of an Austin schoolteacher in 1978. Good post. You ought to read it if I must (and I must) say so myself.
Who'd have thought those battle speech posts would get so much heat? They're ancient. And, I haven't even written much about the Nicholl this year. But, once on the web, always on the web.
If you Google "how to win a Nicholl fellowship", my blog pops up first as if I would have any idea how to win one more than any other screenwriter. Not stealing your thunder on purpose, Greg Beal, but I first noticed this weird phenom last year around this time. Back then, my blog came up sixth. So I blogged about it. Now my blog shows up ahead of even the Nicholl site. Yeah. That's how much I've bored everyone with my Nicholl obsession -- er, I mean posts.
In that last post, I said "by this time next year, maybe when people Google "How to Win a Nicholl Fellowship", they'll arrive here to find an article about how I actually won a Nicholl Fellowship."
Didn't happen. Maybe next year.
So, I'll repeat what I said last year. If you arrived here by Googling "how to win a Nicholl Fellowship", you should know two things:
- I have not won a Nicholl Fellowship -- YET.
- The way to win is to write a great screenplay.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
And even if we win, if we win, HAH! Even if we win! Even if we play so far above our heads that our noses bleed for a week to ten days; even if God in Heaven above comes down and points his hand at our side of the field; even if every man woman and child held hands together and prayed for us to win, it just wouldn't matter because all the really good looking girls would still go out with the guys from Mohawk because they've got all the money! It just doesn't matter if we win or we lose. IT JUST DOESN'T MATTER! That's how the Nicholl works. You can't control the variables -- what desk your work lands on, what kind of experience your readers have, what genres they like, or whether they GET IT. There's only so much the Nicholl can do to level the field. And, honestly, maybe your poop DOES stink despite loud protestations to the contrary.
Yeah. I'm going to enter and I still want to win a Nicholl. Why? I dunno. Why does anyone set any kind of goal at all and then go after it. Don't tell me it's not the only gate to Hollywood. I know that and I don't care. It's not just about access. It's a goal. It's MY goal.
I enter the Nicholl for the same reason that I drag my sleepy butt to the gym every morning and torture my aging body on cardio and weight training equipment although I know full well that these sufferings may burn a few calories but will never make me a size six again. Never. I can't control all the variables. But it's a goal and working toward a goal -- ANY GOAL -- is, at the very least, moving me forward, getting me somewhere today that I wasn't yesterday.
Oh, and for the record, cottage cheese is nasty.
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
I frequently talk to writers who admit to submitting: (1) tribute stories (2) partially fleshed out ideas (3) genres they're uncomfortable writing. All three are mistakes. They think it's an even trade off if the idea is commercial or high concept. I disagree. A poorly executed good idea is not better than a well executed mediocre one. Okay, yes, commercial and high concept ideas are more likely to be produced but poor writing will get tossed in the can. Oh, and here's a tip. Producers don't care who your story memorializes if it's not a good one.
This screenwriting thing we do is, sadly, not for everyone who attempts it but those of us who do take a stab at it need to execute well and come up with ideas people want to see onscreen. It's not enough to do one or the other. It's just not. "People" doesn't mean a thumbs up from your wife either. You gotta sell more tickets than one.
Often I'm told "well when you're a produced screenwriter, then I'll take your advice". Okay, that's cool with me. I'm not handing out advice anyway. I'm just making observations.
Sunday, March 23, 2008
While I still picture him in a cap that made him a clone of the other eight kids in the outfield, my oldest boy is no longer a slave to any sport involving a ball (except on television). He beats people up for sport and exercise now. Sort of. His hooplas are becoming gradually less shocking each week as I become more desensitized and better at guessing exactly how many Aleve gelcaps to pop.
Now that he's switched wrestling organizations, I may attempt a documentary on these guys and gals and how they train, their athleticism versus theatrics, etc. His last organization was less than cooperative. They were afraid I'd tell people it was all fake. Here's the thing - define fake. The gymnastics are real. The workouts are real. The muscles and bruises and injuries are real. My anxiety that somebody will screw up and break my kid's neck? That, too, is real.
Yeah. Good material here for a documentary - especially when those luchadores wrestle!
Thursday, March 20, 2008
I learned last year that the most featured and talked about films at AFI Dallas sell out advance tickets early. There are a few tickets left for this year's centerpiece film, Then She Found Me, but I shall have to stand in line and endure my fellow film-goers' beer breath and body odor in what they call a "rush line" if I want tickets for Battle in Seattle. Tickets are pricey so a film pass is the best way to go. I can't go that way. Life gets in my way. Crawford looks somewhat interesting but it may just be my morbidly curious city government background.
Then She Found Me
Screenwriter: Helen Hunt, Vic Levin, Alice Arlen, based on the novel by Elinor Lipman
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
Thursday, March 06, 2008
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
I like kids, old people and dogs. Anyone else who demonstrates the same vulnerabilities, traits, or misfortunes that you might see in the life of a kid, senior adult, or helpless animal -- well, that's the story for me.
Friday, February 15, 2008
Okay, so scarlet letters were somewhat barbaric but why today is there an acceptable degree of dishonesty and eroded propriety depending on situational circumstances that would have been outrageous 200 years ago? Isn't that like those FDA standards for an acceptable percentage of rat feces in peanut butter? I don't want ANY rat feces, thank you very much. Does that make me a prude? Yet, those of us who find unethical behavior irresponsible are considered pesky letter-of-the-law nuisances because we give off an air of superiority.
I don't feel superior, only free of feces.
I know dishonest people. These aren't other people's friends in lands far away. These are MY friends, family, co-workers, and colleagues. I LIKE THEM but they're slothful and deceitful so it's impossible for me to be in their presence for long periods of time without feeling revulsion. Most of them have a ready justification for their action and pity me for my naivet'e.
The situation may be simple - wanting to slug my nephew for trying to sell his eighteen borrowed text books paid for by tax dollars instead of returning them to the school. Those aren't your books, kid. They belong to the taxpayers. Give them back. Other times, the situation is more complex and yet the same - somebody not doing the right thing and it costing somebody else, directly or indirectly.
I suppose people excuse bad behavior by suggesting that they aren't hurting others but the world is far too occupied to present that argument. You can't even forget your underarm deoderant without gagging people in line with you at the post office. How can somebody possibly make excuses for deeds that violate another person's rights or come at a cost to their health, safety or pocketbook?
I must have been born in the wrong century.
Saturday, February 09, 2008
Monday, February 04, 2008
Friday, February 01, 2008
Oh boy. This one made my eyeballs hurt. Video written by Seth MacFarlane. Featuring Josh Radnor, Kat Foster, Nick Kroll, John Viener, Seth MacFarlane, and Erik Weiner. Directed by Bryan Carmel and Brendan Colthurst.
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Who knows. Last year, my dink letter couldn't have come at a worse time and yet, how cool is it that we now have Brett's experiences to learn from should any of us follow in his -- whatever it is he wears on those big feet of his?
With no job right now, you'd think I'd be obsessing over the Nicholl again. Nope. Did that already. Time well wasted studying my weaknesses and trying to become a better screenwriter. This past few months, I've just been reading screenplays and watching movies.
As for the Nicholl, I may polish an old screenplay or two or finish up one or two I'm working on and I may not enter at all. I don't really don't know. Whatever happens, happens. Doris and Peter knew in Same Time Next Year that somebody would always be waiting for them at that quaint little inn on the coast in California. I don't know if there is a Nicholl waiting or me or not. Nobody does. But it's always there to work toward. I guess that's something.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Lucy defied medicine when she got pregnant at four months old. I adopted her from a local animal shelter and thought I had a few months to get her spayed.
Even at nine years old, she's still -- uh -- flexible. Don't be too unkind. She's just really missin' this guy.
Tuesday, January 22, 2008
Atonement - Christopher Hampton
Away From Her - Sarah Polley
No Country For Old Men - Joel Coen & Ethan Coen
There Will Be Blood - Paul Thomas Anderson
BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY
Juno - Diablo Cody
Lars and the Real Girl - Nancy Oliver
Michael Clayton - Tony Gilroy
Ratattouille - Screenplay by Brad Bird. Story by Jan Pinkava, Jim Capobianco, Brad Bird
The Savages - Tamara Jenkins
Monday, January 21, 2008
Sunday, January 20, 2008
Tuesday, January 15, 2008
"While there are a handful of exceptions where actors ad lib and improvise lines, for the most part, all of our favorite lines from American television and cinema, lines we often repeat to friends, re-use to express our own thoughts, re-tell to make others laugh, were written by guild writers. And we have no idea who they are. Often, we even credit the actor with the lines they said, for they're who we see saying them. We never see the writer say them, or even write them. We'll say, "It's like Johnny Depp said in that one movie…" And we'll mean, of course, that it's like what Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio wrote in that one movie."Kudos, Matt Petryni, wherever in Oregon you are, and shame on anyone who thinks you have to be in Hollywood to get it.
Monday, January 14, 2008
Saturday, January 05, 2008
Almost everyone I know dealt with some kind of monumental challenge in 2007 -- deaths in the family, unemployment, kids on drugs, miscarriages, marital problems, natural disasters and economic issues -- it just goes on and on. Coasting is not an option for most people but who would want to live that kind of beige life anyway?
Every day that we walk this earth is a day wasted if a portion of it isn't spent trying to make it better for somebody who walks behind or beside us. Sometimes though, there's just nothing we can do except remind each other to get up in the morning and keep going.
So, here's my New Year's wish for you. Whatever you want, make it happen. When your dreams feel like they're vanishing into thin air, inhale.
(This is the only video I could find with this version of the song - close you eyes and listen.)
Friday, January 04, 2008
(Spoiler alert, by the way, but seriously, you've seen these movies .)
"All the President's Men" (1976): President Nixon resigns. No kidding?
"Animal House" (1978): Freeze frame on characters explaining what happened to them. Unique approach in 1978. Everyone does it now.
"Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" (1969): Blaze of glory.
"Fargo" (1996): My painting of a duck is going to be on a three cent stamp.
"Ferris Bueller's Day Off" (1986): Rooney on the school bus with the brats he despises.
"Kelly's Heroes" (1970): "De Gaulle! De Gaulle!"
"Limbo" (1999): Is the plane coming to save them or kill them?
"Mister Roberts" (1955): Palm tree overboard!!
"Nine Queens" (2000): Awwww. It's not all a con after all.
"North by Northwest" (1959): Train. Tunnel. Enough said.
"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (1975): Beware of broken glass.
"Picnic" (1955): Kim Novac following the train.
"The Professional" (1994): Boom!
"Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981): Hiding the ark in plain view.
"Reservoir Dogs" (1992): Nobody left.
"The Searchers" (1956): Just walk away, John. Just walk away.
"Silence of the Lambs" (1991): Serial killer on the beach.
"The Sixth Sense" (1999): If a boy is talking to YOU and says, "I see dead people", don't renew your health insurance.
"Some Like It Hot" (1959): Nobody's perfect. Ain't it the truth?
"Son of Paleface" (1952): Bob Hope riding off in the sunset in his jeep mimicking Roy Rogers on Trigger.
"Stalag 17" (1953): Wait. The dead guy is who?
"A Star is Born" (1937, 1954): The widow speaks.
"To Catch a Thief" (1955): The mother will love it here.
"The Wizard of Oz" (1939): There's no place like home.
"You've Got Mail" (1998): "Don't cry, Shopgirl." Wait. How is this on the list?
Okay, so those are Chicago's favorite movie endings.
What are yours?
Thursday, January 03, 2008
Too much for my amateur brain.
My humble concern: If Leno's show falls short of expectations compared to Letterman (who now has writers), it might be an indication that producers need to scurry on back to the table. But could the reverse not be claimed by the AMPTP as well? Leno is a talented and creative guy who isn't going to purposely do lame monologues. Could reasonably successful Leno shows without writers encourage AMPTP to sit on their wallets longer? And, I'm confused about Conan as I thought he was a WGA member bound by the "thou shalt not write" rule?
If you hear a loud sound and then a splat . . .
Tuesday, January 01, 2008
For details, check out United Hollywood or click here.